Chicken Feed: Fermenting for Your Birds
I have nineteen little beaked mouths I’m feeding right now. Of the nineteen, eight are currently laying. I have two hens who are brooding and nine little babes. If you know your profit & loss math, you can see I’m not in a great position right now. Because I ferment my chicken feed, I’m currently breaking even.
People often discuss fermenting feed for chickens, but they only talk about adult hens. Did you know that you can ferment feed for all ages and all variety of poultry? My chicks and ducklings start getting fermented feed when they are a week old. I only wait that long because they are still in the walk through their food phase in that first week and things get messy quickly. The ducklings get an extra step in their fermented feed process, but it takes literally a moment more. I’ll get into that in just a minute.
How Do I Save $ Fermenting?
That is an awesome question! First, less waste. Chickens (especially) enjoy scratching through their food and dropping it all over the place. I’m not sure about your birds, but my posh poultry do not eat pellets that have landed on the ground. Bugs are fine. Feed is not. Second, increased nutrition. The fermenting process increases the nutrient levels of chicken feed as well as the birds’ ability to absorb the nutrients. As a result, birds consume about 1/3 less than they would on dry feed.
Types of Fermenting
There are two ways to ferment your feed. Here is a very basic description of how it applies to chicken feed: Lacto-Fermenting involves grabbing good bacteria from the air and creating a lactic bath. As long as the water stays above the feed, the feed will stay preserved. No starter is required with this method since the feed and the air have the required bacteria already present.
Alcohol-Fermenting is similar to the beer making process, but no, you won’t have a bunch of drunk chickens flitting around your yard. This method requires adding yeasts to the chicken feed. Lids are suppose to be tight as contact with the air can cause contamination. Burping the container (opening the lid to scoop out feed) is suppose to be enough air exchange to prevent the container exploding, but having concocted a few alcoholic beverages in my day, I would use an air exchange plug to play it safe. You can get one for under $5 at a beer supply store.
Being a lady who doesn’t want to work too hard, I use the lacto-fermenting process. I’ve even figured out ways to make it even easier…
How to Ferment
This method works best with lacto-fermented feed, but it will work just fine for the alcohol fermented feed as well. The assembly and feeding process is very similar.
I use a two bucket method. I have one bucket with holes drilled all over the bottom half. This is the bucket that the feed goes in. I have a second bucket that the first slides into. This is the bucket that keeps in all the water I’m going to add. Basically the inside bucket is a giant strainer.
I’ve got an industrial-strength hook mounted above the feed buckets. When I’m ready to feed, I lift the inside bucket up by the handle, hook it on the hook and all my starter water strains into the other bucket, leaving behind the nice fluffy feed for my scooping pleasure.
What Can I Ferment?
The base of the chicken feed (at least in my case) is Multi-Flock commercial feed in pellet form. Not only are pellets cheaper, but they don’t break down as easily, so there is still some solidity to the feed.
Some people ferment grains only, but I prefer to know that my birds are getting at least their minimum dietary needs. After that, you can add just about anything. I mix in whatever is in season (aka: whatever is cheapest). This last batch had some cracked corn, field peas, wheat and flax. You can add grains, food scraps (no dairy or meats) as well as scratch. I do my best to keep the ratio 2/3 commercial feed and 1/3 add-ons.
Once all the solids are in the bucket, just top it off with water. Again, with lacto-fermentation, the water level needs to stay above the feed.
How Do I Know It’s Working?
It’s all about bubbles and smell. You will see bubbles forming in it when it’s actively fermenting. Although you can feed it as soon as it’s had a chance to soak, it takes 3-5 days to actually begin fermenting. Not only will you see bubbles when it’s ready (and maybe foam sitting on the top), it will have a sweet smell. To me it smells like pizza dough.
Sniff your feed often. Although it is hard to mess up lacto-fermented feed, it can happen. If it has a rancid smell or it seems sour you will need to dump and start over. You cannot save the starter liquid. You will have to start at the very beginning.
Fermenting for Ducklings
As mentioned before, ducklings require one more step. They require additional niacin in their diet. I get nutritional yeast at my local health food store. It costs hardly anything and it is jam-packed with niacin. Since my ducklings are housed separately during the time they need the additional niacin, I scoop out some dry feed just for them and sprinkle the dietary yeast on top (not a science, just a bit is needed – maybe 1 tsp per cup of feed) and shake the container to get it mixed in. Then I ferment just as I would everyone else’s feed.
I wont lie, fermenting is harder than just putting out a container of dry feed. You have to feed each day (opposed to every couple of days with dry feed). Batches can go bad. Just the other day, my buckets vacuum sealed together leaving me elbow deep in fermenting water trying to scoop out the remaining feed until I could get the buckets apart. I don’t do it during the winter since I don’t want to keep the buckets in my house. Fermenting is great for saving money and it does help with the birds’ digestion. It is definitely a great option when you need to shave off a few bucks from your poultry bills.